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Drug-sniffing dogs to return to Newport Beach and Costa Mesa schools

Drug-sniffing dog are returning to campus this fall in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa
Drug dogs may be used to screen students' lockers this fall at Newport Beach and Costa Mesa schools

Dogs trained to sniff out drugs, alcohol and gunpowder will be brought back to high schools and middle schools in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa in the fall

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District will spend $27,000 for the dogs to search Estancia, Costa Mesa, Back Bay, Corona del Mar, Newport Harbor and Early College high schools, and Ensign Intermediate and TeWinkle Middle schools, during the next school year, according to a staff report.

"I'm not sure that we'll ever stop everyone from bringing [illegal items] on campus," said school board member Martha Fluor. "However, the dogs provide another reason not to bring those things on campus and not to use them outside of school."

Students determined to have contraband will be escorted to the school office for counseling and further investigation.

The dog-aided searches have led to disciplinary action in the past, said Phil D'Agostino, director of student services.

The dogs visited Newport-Mesa secondary schools 50 times during the 2013-14 school year and searched more than 7,500 students' belongings, D'Agostino said.

Administrators confiscated illicit drugs, mainly marijuana, from 14 students and "ancillary contraband" — weapons, tobacco products or gang-related paraphernalia — from 12 students, the report states.

"The real bang for our buck is that we're creating a message and deterring students from bringing alcohol and drugs on campus," D'Agostino said.

The canines alerted officials to illicit items most often at Estancia High School in Costa Mesa this year, according to the report.

However, D'Agostino said that statistic may not reflect the actual amount of drugs at the high school relative to other schools.

This past school year, administrators on each campus were responsible for selecting classrooms for searches.

The lack of a consistent procedure could produce data that may lead people to make unfair conclusions about the severity of problems at a particular school, D'Agostino said.

This fall the district intends to come up with a consistent search process for all the schools, he said.

District officials are also contemplating allowing the dogs to search lockers at the school in addition to students' personal belongings.

"If kids know that the dogs will also be sniffing at their lockers, it provides an added deterrent," Fluor said.

Hannah Fry writes for Times Community News. For more Orange County school news, follow @HannahFryTCN

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